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Zatoichi nidan-kiri
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by Brian McKay

"Zatoichi Vol. 10: Zatoichi's Revenge"
5 stars

The ZATOICHI series takes a darker turn with the theme of sexual slavery in ZATOICHI'S REVENGE. Considering how lighthearted most of the previous outings have been (or, at least, as lighthearted as a series can be that shows an average of 30-50 guys being mowed down in each installment), the scenes of young women being forced into prostitution and brutally beaten when they refuse to cooperate are more than a little unnerving. The bright side, however, is that Zatoichi's eventual serving up of justice is all the more satisfying.

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) returns to the village where he studied the art of massage as a young man. Upon arriving, however, he learns that his master has been murdered two weeks prior, and that his Master's daughter, Sayo, has been sold into prostitution to pay off her dead father's debts. However, when she refuses to sleep with the brothel's customers, she is kept locked in a cage out back and beaten on a regular basis for her disobedience.

Learning of her plight, Zatoichi vows to free her and avenge her father's murder. However, it's not as simple as just busting her out of her cage, since the brothel owners appear to have a legal bond obligating her to work off her father's debt. Several other young women share Sayo's fate at the brothel, being forced into sexual servitude because of their families' debts.

While trying to help Sayo, and learn the identity of her father's killer, Ichi gets involved in a dice game after meeting a croupier and his 11 year old daughter, Tsuru. Zatoichi strikes up a friendship with the pair, and attends one of the croupier's dice games in the hopes of winning enough money to buy off Sayo's bond. But when the Croupier is forced to cheat by his bosses (who also run the brothel), Zatoichi exposes the cheat through his usual lighting-quick display of swordsmanship. While he ends up walking away with enough money for Sayo's bond, the croupier is held responsible for the loss. He is fired and ordered to leave town, but is ordered to leave his daughter behind with the whoremongers as collateral.

When Zatoichi learns that the innocent young Tsuru is about to become the brothel's latest victim, he decides it's time to put his foot down - square onto some whoremongering ass! Zatoichi's Revenge features some of the best one-on-one sword combat of the series. But the final showdown against the Whoremongers' bodyguards is one of the best en-masse slaughters to date, as Zatoichi picks up a second sword for some double-katana cuisinart action. The manner in which he frees the girls and dispatches the Whoremongers themselves is particularly gratifying (Whoremongers - I love that word).

ZATOICHI'S REVENGE gives the viewer a disturbing peek at one of the darker aspects of Japanese history, with its practices of sexual enslavement. But it also gives Ichi a particularly noble cause to take up. While the "young woman in peril" scenario is almost as commonplace as the "child in peril" scenario, (both being fairly manipulative since they so easily evoke an emotional response), it is used quite effectively here. It almost reminded me of some of the more brutal "Women in Prison" films of the period, only without the scenes of nudity or rape.

Still, ZATOICHI'S REVENGE has plenty of deft touches of humor as well, including one hilarious, early scene that has the blind swordsman side-stepping over a narrow, broken bridge in a manuever that surely must have been inspired by the works of Charlie Chaplin. The Zatoichi films have always been a showcase for clever comedy, both physical and verbal, and this episode of the series is no exception.

ZATOICHI'S REVENGE is one of the best in the long-running series to date, mixing in a bit of social commentary with the usual staples of swordplay, humor, and pathos. Plus, it shows him felling whoremongers (I couldn't resist one more) like a weed-whacker -what more could you ask for?

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originally posted: 04/21/04 02:26:17
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  02-Feb-1965 (NR)



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